'New to the job and inexperienced, President Truman was the person most responsible for the outbreak of the Cold War.' How far do you agree?
I would argue that this view is almost without merit. This is, in part however, because I tend to disagree with the “great men” view of history in which history is made by the actions of important people. Instead, I tend to believe that larger trends in history are the cause of big events like the Cold War.
What this means is that I would argue that the Cold War would have happened regardless of who the American president was. The Cold War came out of at least two major factors that were much bigger than any one person. The first of these was the antagonism between communism and capitalism/democracy as systems. These two political and economic systems were going to be strongly opposed to one another regardless of who their leaders were. Clearly, we cannot blame Truman for the differences between capitalism and communism.
The second larger factor was the historical Russian fear of invasion from the west. The Russians had been invaded twice from the west since 1812 and had also lost a great deal of territory to Germany in WWI. The Soviet Union was, therefore, extremely concerned about keeping its western borders safe. For this reason, the Soviets were going to be aggressive about taking a buffer zone to the west. This, too, cannot be blamed on Truman.
The fact that the Cold War was not Truman’s fault is further underlined by the fact that Winston Churchill (who cannot be accused of being inexperienced and naïve) strongly pushed for an aggressive stance toward the Soviet Union.
For these reasons, I tend to discount the idea that President Truman was to blame for the Cold War.